Only Twice I’ve Wished for Heaven

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Thomas Saville’s dream of security and a better way of life for his wife and daughter seems to become reality when they move to Lakeland, a Chicago urban renewal residence project for black professionals. Twelve-year-old Tempestt feels only loneliness and bewilderment, however, in leaving behind her childhood friends, neighbors, and familiar home.

Ivy-covered walls prove to be no barrier for Tempestt, who quickly discovers the intriguing life in the ghetto around Thirty-fifth Street just on the other side of Lakeland’s illusion of protection. She finds understanding and security in the company of Miss Jonetta, a former prostitute, who manages the neighborhood store, O’Cala’s. She is intrigued by the sweet-talking street preacher Alfred Mayes and his zealous band of New Saveds, unaware of his dubious role in the unfolding, entangled story. A group of men who gather regularly at O’Cala’s become, along with Miss Jonetta, Tempestt’s guardians against a world which is both harsh and fiercely loving.

Tempestt befriends an eccentric classmate, Valerie, who lives with her father, a janitor at Lakeland, in a rundown basement apartment within the complex. Valerie’s often mysterious ways lead Tempestt to discover the complexities of generational poverty, promiscuity, and abuse which are all part of her friend’s daily existence. In the midst of their friendship, a truth is uncovered which ultimately leads to Valerie’s death. This tragedy inspires a closer look at the divisions created by wealth and poverty, motivates the total evacuation of Thirty-fifth Street, and gives everyone, including Tempestt and her family, a chance to leave and begin again.